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THE MODERN JEW.
The Three GREAT PRECEPTS OF JUDAISM.
ERHAPS there are few creeds respecting
whose tenets the general reader is more ignorant than that of the Hebrews
of the present day. To many people Modern Judaism is very much the same as the Judaism
of the Old Testament. They believe that the Jews, wherever they worship, still build a teraple, still sacrifice, and still have their High Priest. It is but few who know how
vast is the difference between the Jewish religion of the present day, and the Jewish religion of the past,-how the simple foundation of the Old Testament has been built over by superstitious fables from the Talmud, by false precepts, and by commandments
unknown to the Mosaic law. It will be well, therefore, to give at the outset of these sketches of Jewish ceremonies, a brief account of the nature of Modern Judaism.
The Jews, on their return from Babylon, finding that the sufferings and calamities they had endured were the consequence of not having kept the law of Moses, determined for the future to fulfil that law to the very letter. Accordingly, after a most minute research, a list of six hundred and thirteen precepts was compiled from the Pentateuch, and every Jew strictly bound to observe its commands. The chief of these numerous precepts, and which, according to Dr. Margoliouth,* constitute the very basis of Judaism, refer to the phylacteries, fringes at the corners of garments, and the sign on the door-posts. These three precepts are considered to be coeval with the institution of Judaism. Let us briefly examine their nature.
The custom of wearing phylacteries at prayers by the Jews is deduced from the commandment in the law of Moses : "And it shall be for a sign unto thee upon thine hand, and for a memorial between thine eyes,”—recorded four times in the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy. Great reverence is attached to these phylacteries. They consist of the four following portions of Scripture, written upon slips of parchment rolled up, and put into a little leathern box: Exod. xiii.1-10; Exod. xiii. 11-16; Deut. vi. 4–9; and Deut. xi. 13–21. This box is then sewn together with the sinews of a clean animal, and bound for a sign upon the hands of him who prays. The four passages are again written on four separate slips of parchment, and put into four small leathern boxes, joined together in one, sewed with sinews as before, and used as frontlets between the eyes.
* Modern Judaism Investigated, by Moses Margoliouth, LL.D., Bentley. 1 vol. I am greatly indebted to this work for much of the information contained in this chapter.
The straps of leather which fasten the phylacteries upon the head and arm, are called r'tsuoth. The breadth of the r'tsuoth ought to be equal to the length of a barley-corn, or a little wider, and the length to be sufficient to compass the head, and to make the kesher, or knot. The length of the r'tsuoth for the arm is to be such as to allow of its going seven times round the arm, and three times round the middle finger, with a little over.
I have already said that the Jews attach great reverence to the wearing of the phylacteries. When a male child is twelve years and eleven months old, his father is obliged to instruct him in the observances relating to them; and to impress upon him the blessings awaiting those that use them rightly, and the awful punishments which are visited upon those who abuse them. During a whole month the child is taught nothing else but their sublime holiness. When he has attained the age of thirteen years and one day, he takes the responsibility of the law upon himself, and is thenceforth bound to use them. This ceremony stands in the same relation to the Jewish Church as the rite of confirmation
PHYLACTERIES FOR THE HEAD AND ARM.
does to the Church of England. The father of the child returns thanks in the synagogue before all the congregation, in these words: “Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, that Thou hast set me free from the punishment of this child;" for till that time has arrived, the son's conduct is imputed to the father.
The earliest time in the morning when phylacteries are allowed to be worn is “when a person is able to distinguish between blue and white;" but they are chiefly now used, by order of the Rabbis, at the time of morning prayers. A great number, however, of the Jews of Poland, Jerusalem, and Russia wear them from morning until evening, with the view of separating themselves from the world and enjoying a closer communication with God; for as long as a Jew is arrayed in his phylacteries, his mind must not be distracted from worship,
even for the twinkling of an eye.” For this reason every one is prohibited from sleeping in them. The phylacteries are only worn during prayers, but never on the Sabbath.
When the Jews have finished their prayers, they take off their phylacteries, and put them together in such a manner that the straps may appear like doves' wings round the boxes. Many Jews not only look upon their phylacteries as a mediation between them and God, but also as amulets and charms to drive away spirits. It is not at all uncommon for superstitious Jews, when they go anywhere by night, to take their phylacteries with them, that the devil may not have dominion over them. Nor is their superstition at all out of place, when we consider the importance and efficacy attached to phylacteries as laid down in the Jewish devotions. These are a few of the Rabbinical assertions:
“ Whosoever hath phylacteries on his head, he will not sin." " Whosoever wears phylacteries, his sins are forgiven him.”
Whosoever wears phylacteries, hell fire shall not prevail against him to annihilate him. Not every Israelite is a Jew, except he has two witnesses—the sign of circumcision and phylacteries.”
" The mysteries of phylacteries are extremely deep; it is impossible to write even a few of them, for the virtues of the precepts of phylacteries are very great.”
Women and children are not allowed to wear phylacteries.
As in our Lord's time the Scribes and Pharisees made broad their phylacteries for to be seen of men, so also such of the modern Jews who profess to be more holy than their brethren,